Weathering the storm
The race to the safety and shelter of Alexandra Fjord from the oncoming gale was blocked when we arrived early this morning to find the Fjord iced in and inaccessible. Left with no other option but to push further south toward Pim Island and Rice Straight. Arriving at Fram Haven, where Otto Sverdrup wintered in 1898-99, we found it too exposed for the expected south westerly gale. Running out of time and ideas, Lady Luck again lay her gaze on Exiles and her wily 4 person crew – the latest weather reports indicated the wind gathering steam at a slower rate than forecast and would not reach gale conditions until Sunday morning — the route through Smith Sound was still open to safe passage! And so we decided to continue south through the sound to the relative safety of Baffin Bay in search of more southerly harbours and hopefully more comfortable places to weather the storm. Taking advantage of the delayed arrival of the foul weather, the “Ever Up For It” Will Turner was
able to quickly leap ashore for a peak at Sverdrup’s expedition hut – our first landing on Canadian shores. This brief adventure was followed by our first sighting of the elusive walrus.
Our race through Kane Basin to escape was full with difficult decisions and dilemma’s about the most effective course of action to take at any one moment. About half way down the Basin, just south of Dobbin Bay, the glass calm of the water was interrupted by a surprising 10-12 knot southerly wind. Our fuel tanks able to hold 600 L of fuel (approx. 6 days of continuous 24 hours under steam; diesel is vital and valuable resource. On a normal day, in those conditions, we would have the sails out immediately – both for the pleasure and sound of Exiles under sail (for those not accustomed to the interior of Exiles, the engine cover doubles as our saloon table top – it is very loud), as well as the need to conserve fuel for the days and weeks ahead. But yesterday under engine, we were making 7 knots, while under sail we would make 4 – 5 knots but against the wind, meaning we would be taking a constantly indirect course to our hoped for safe haven adding critical hours to the passage. The choice: conserve fuel or continue with haste to safety; we continued to motor.
As the day progressed, we began to encounter thicker ice packs, a challenge made even more difficult as the fog came in and reduced our visibility to less than 75 meters. Steaming at 7 knots, a collision could be disastrous. Again, we were faced with choice of continuing at speed, at that time believing we had only hours to spare before the onset of the storm, or slow down to safely navigate the ice. We chose to reduce despite the need to make a rapid passage. In these dynamic, somewhat unknown, and rapidly changing conditions, we hade little choice but to reduce the risk of the most immediate and pressing challenge.
Finally, we made it through the Sound into the relatively clearer waters of Baffin Bay this afternoon around 1300 and were rewarded with a brief sliver of sunlight and pleasant 10 knot winds from the south south west. Taking advantage in the delayed arrival of the storm, relatively open and ice-free water, and favourable breeze, we were able to hoist the sails and give our engine and diesel consumption a much deserved rest after 24 non stop hours under steam. At 2300 Thursday night, we finally dropped to anchor in Cadogan Inlet on Ellesmere Island and can lay our heads down for the night after 4 days of continuous watch up and back through Kane Basin. Perhaps we will even watch a movie and have some of “Special Treat Pete’s” famous popcorn.